Boosting Franchisee Soft Skills to Get Hard Results
By Scott Greenberg, author of The Wealthy Franchisee
“So, why do you think some of your franchisees are underperforming?”
This is one of the standard questions I ask franchisors who bring me in to keynote their conventions. Typically, I get the same standard answers:
“They don’t trust us and stick to the system.”
“They resist change.”
“They don’t give customers the experience they should.”
“They spend too much time running their business and not enough time growing their business.”
The common denominator among these concerns is that they’re less operational and more philosophical. They’re a reflection of what franchisees think and feel about their business.
Franchisors know well how a franchisee’s mindset directly impacts their execution of the system. But when I look at the agenda of their conventions, I see all the usual sessions about marketing, new products and vendors, and all things operational. There might be some social activities to build goodwill and some pep rally antics on stage to get people “pumped up,” but rarely is there any meaningful discussion around the human factors that so clearly influence business performance.
There are reasons for this. Some franchisors don’t fully appreciate the extent to which these issues limit franchisees. Others are uncomfortable straying from business topics. Many simply don’t know themselves how to address these matters. They may be experts in frozen yogurt, senior in home care, and mosquito control. But human behavior and group dynamics are different disciplines altogether. They’re also not within the scope of the franchise agreement.
Great franchise organizations go beyond franchisee hard skills and also support their soft skills, resulting in a system of owners who are as confident as they are competent. That helps them run better businesses and improves their level of satisfaction.
Getting Franchisees to Their “Point of Clarity”
We do our best work when we operate from our point of clarity. This state of mind isn’t defined by positivity or enthusiasm (which is what most brands promote at their events), but by clarity. This is our ability to look at our circumstances objectively without allowing emotions to cloud our judgement.
Sometimes what franchisees need most isn’t to be pumped up, but calmed down. Business ownership is an emotionally charged experience. When expectations aren’t met, when sales drop, when customers complain, franchisees feel it. Those feelings cause franchisees to draw incorrect conclusions, lose trust, and panic. Often they talk to each other, reinforcing their fears and mistrust of the corporate team.
Part of the problem is the human brain itself. When we perceive danger (physical or financial), it triggers our amygdala. That’s our brain’s fire alarm. It leads to a fight or flight response. And when it’s active, it blocks the neural pathways to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for logic, reason, and problem solving. In other words, when we’re freaking out, we can’t access the part of brain that’s good for business.
To help franchisees return to their point of clarity, you need to help them disengage their amygdala and appeal to their sense of reason. Let’s look at a few ways to do this.
Support Franchisees with Empathy
True empathy isn’t cheering someone up. Empathy is acknowledging someone’s emotional state and being with them. That requires attention. It requires listening. Sometimes when someone’s upset, all they really want is to be heard. (Just ask your spouse!)
Franchisees complain to me that their franchisor doesn’t listen to them. I believe the real problem is that their franchisor doesn’t make them feel heard. There’s a difference. You don’t need to implement every idea franchisees suggest, nor should you hold back on smart changes some resist. But you do need to give franchisees the time and forum to express themselves. Then engage them in conversation – not debate. Really listen. Explain their perspective back to them to confirm you got it right. Strong franchise networks are driven by partnership more than policy. So acknowledge your franchisees’ feelings and perspectives, and make sure they feel their input matters.
Franchisees complain to me that their franchisor doesn’t listen to them. I believe the real problem is that their franchisor doesn’t make them feel heard.
Support Franchisees with Data
A field consultant told me about a franchisee who complained of a drop in sales when corporate opened another location in his city. The consultant ran a report that verified the drop in sales, but also an increase in transactions. More people were coming in, but the franchisee’s ticket average had decreased, suggesting the real problem was poor customer service and salesmanship.
Objective information can trump feelings, guesses, and suspicion. Help franchisees reframe their concerns with facts. There’s a difference between “My business is crashing!” and “My business is down 20%.” Give them context for their performance by providing information about what’s happening in the system and in the industry. But don’t just present that data. Use it to return them to their point of clarity. If things are better than they realize, make that case. If problems are real, give them the facts and reassure them with your plans or suggestions. Use data to encourage and inspire, not just to inform.
Objective information can trump feelings, guesses, and suspicion. Help franchisees reframe their concerns with facts.
Support Franchisees with Positive Reinforcement
Business owners don’t typically get the feedback and praise they’d otherwise get from an employer. But they need it. People have an innate desire for acknowledgement. For many franchisees, this is just as important as profit.
Your acknowledgement – formal or otherwise — means a lot. Be generous with your awards. Offer lots of praise. Instruct field support to find things franchisees are doing well and say something.
I explain to franchisees that great customer service elevates the emotional state of customers. What they get is less important than how they feel. This is just as true in franchise support. Franchisees are paying you for operational guidance. But if you can also help them feel good running their business, they’ll run it better. Catch them doing things right and praise them often. Your outside acknowledge will help combat any inner self-doubt.
You haven’t just sold your franchisees a business. You’ve sold them a ticket to a psychological rollercoaster ride. Appreciate their emotional journey. Help them achieve clarity as aggressively as they seek sales. They need the right aptitude and the right attitude in order to succeed. Developing both will boost performance, increase their satisfaction, and grow your brand.
Scott Greenberg helps franchisors close the franchisee performance gap, and franchisees grow their business. He’s the author of the book The Wealthy Franchisee: Game-Changing Steps to Becoming a Thriving Franchise Superstar. More information at www.scottgreenberg.com.